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Dancing with the gorge STARS

 Damon Hulit dances with Casey Bartlemay  as Jesse Maher shoots images in preparation for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School.

Damon Hulit dances with Casey Bartlemay as Jesse Maher shoots images in preparation for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School. Photo by Kathy Ursprung.

Professional showcase

In addition to the gorge stars performing during the first half of Thursday’s Mid-Columbia Community Concert Association presentation, in the last half of the event the audience will get to see the professional 20-member Utah Ballroom Dance Company perform a showcase from their “Cinemagic” performance.

This year’s performance, though still movie-themed, will include all different routines, said production manager Jesse Maher.

Most of the dancers in the Utah Ballroom Dance Company are university students from Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.

The 20-member company is based in Corvallis. It is a four-year-old branch of the original Utah group.

The company members rehearse 20 to 30 hours a week, in addition to maintaining fulltime school schedules and part-time or full-time jobs, Maher said.

“They love dance and that’s why they’re here,” he said.

They’ve been doing the local stars performances throughout that time.

“It’s been very successful,” Maher said. “We’ve never sent anybody out that hasn’t been successful.”

The trick, Maher said, is to make sure the choreography is something the competitors can actually do.

“We come in with a preset routine and then we modify it to something they feel comfortable with.”

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BOB PALMER strikes a pose while rehearsing with his partner, Jenn Berry, in preparation for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School.

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Tonya Brumley with Seth Ward dance while rehearsing for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School.

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Luise Langheinrich with Andrew Blackburne dance in preparation for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School.

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Pam Jensen with Alex Galvan dance in preparation for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School.

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Mike Urness with Haley Wayt prepare for Dancing with the Gorge Stars this Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at The Dalles High School.

John Travolta in his prime has nothing on Bob Palmer.

Whether he’s a fan of “Saturday Night Fever” or not, Palmer’s Dancing with the Gorge Stars partner, Jenn Berry, has the local fire chief striking his best disco poses.

There’s no wide-lapelled polyester suit in the back of Palmer’s closet.

“I missed the whole disco thing the first time around and was kind of glad I did,” he said. “Now maybe I’ll have to take it up. I don’t know what my wife would say, though.”

Palmer is one of six local residents who will be matching skills in a variety of dance styles for Dancing with the Gorge Stars. The dance contest, along the lines of television reality shows “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” starts at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1, at The Dalles High School auditorium. Tickets are available from all the dancers as well as at Klindt’s Booksellers and Columbia River Music in The Dalles and Waucoma Books in Hood River.

Also putting their twinkle toes to the test will be Tonya Brumley, partnered with Seth Ward for the Argentine tango; Pam Jensen dancing the cha cha with Alex Galvan; Damon Hulit with Casey Bartlemay for the Viennese waltz; Luise Langheinrich dancing the rhumba with Andrew Blackburne; and Mike Urness dancing the swing with Haley Wayt. Their skilled partners are all from the Utah Ballroom Dance Company.

This is the Mid-Columbia Concert Association’s second year bringing the event to The Dalles.

Last year’s performance drew one of the association’s larger crowds of the year.

“I had so much fun going to the show last year that I decided to do it this year,” Jensen said. “Our office all went as a group last year and we had a blast. One of the husbands that went to the show last year under force is coming back this year because he had such a good time.”

Both Jensen and Hulit admit to being fans of the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” Hulit was the only contestant who admitted to taking dance lessons previously. But he says they were in the distant past and won’t give him a leg up on the competition.

Urness has already had one turn at stardom in the last week. He served as this year’s paramour for the Cherry Pit Queens during the Northwest Cherry Festival Parade.

“This is easy compared to that,” he said with emphasis.

While the men of the group chose their dance styles by drawing straws, the women matched their songs to their hair color — and that’s the only hint they’ll give of what is to come.

The group all started rehearsing Sunday and by Thursday their partners will have them stage-ready. Asked how that happens in such a short time, dancer Seth Ward declined to share his secrets saying only, “We all have our own little ways.”

Casey Bartlemay said the trick for folks who want to learn is “repetition.” Patti Blagg, concert association president, said this year’s group is highly motivated.

“They went into this online really early and got their heads wrapped around the music and checked out the dances,” Blagg said. “They come prepared.”

Asked what was the best thing about the experience, Brumley said, “Meeting Seth. He’s such a nice guy and he’s extremely patient, even when I step on him or hit him with my heels.”

Langheinrich said she did it because the event is for a good cause. “That’s the stuff that motivated me.” The event is a fundraiser for Mid-Columbia Community Concert Association.

Three local judges will help make the choice of who will win bragging rights — and a trophy — at Thursday’s event, but the audience will also play a big role. They will get one vote per ticket at the door and may even stuff their favorite’s ballot box during intermission by buying more “votes.”

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